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Opinion: Coronavirus carries with it not only fear, but also stigma

Chinese and other Asian Americans in Minnesota are bracing to field questions if and when the coronavirus gets here.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — At this point, it's clear that the coronavirus is making its way around the world. It might be at a point where we're no longer thinking if but when for its arrival in Minnesota.

With that in mind, there's a fear that the virus is bringing with it. Perhaps more toxic than the virus itself, the stigma that comes with it too.

The CDC put out a statement regarding the stigma that comes with COVID-19. It reads in part:

"Stigma hurts everyone by creating more fear or anger towards ordinary people instead of the disease that is causing the problem. We can fight stigma and help not hurt others by providing social support. We can communicate the facts that being Chinese or Asian American does not increase the chance of getting or spreading COVID-19."

So it's clearly a problem. Today, I connected with a group that's holding a fundraiser to tell fellow Minnesotans that Chinese restaurants have always been safe to eat at. They're trying to bring more customers in through the doors of local Chinese restaurants and also trying to directly help those who might need resources in China.

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That brought me to 98 Pounds Buffet in Bloomington. The lunch rush is very real at the buffet. It was loud and packed with diners, looking to fill up on delicious Chinese food as well as Sushi. 

The restaurant might consider itself lucky because they are still seeing a ton of customers, despite other Chinatown businesses around the nation struggling to attract people.

The manager explained that 98 Pounds has been open for 12 years now and that a lot of their repeat customers keep business strong. 

However, Jin D. Chen, who represents the Minnesota Chinese American Chamber of Commerce said he worries that the unfounded fear of contracting the coronavirus at Chinese restaurants will soon affect businesses here in the state.

Chen, along with several Chinese American and Asian American non-profits gathered to create a fundraiser called "Restaurants in Action" to help boost business for local Chinese restaurants as well as collect money to send to Wuhan and Hubei Province.

"Right now we're encouraging everyone to support the fundraiser and to support the owners of these restaurants and work together to contribute to the cause," Chen said through a translator.

Melody Zhou is also a part of the fundraising effort. "Restaurants in Action" invites people to dine at participating restaurants that will then donate a portion of its sales to funding medical equipment in Hubei province. 

Zhou who is also the principal of Minnesota International Chinese School said her heart is breaking for her community.

"When we started this event, they [the restaurant owners] all reported that they did notice dramatically decreased their revenues," Zhou said. "Their business is going down because people are fearful of coming out to eat."

As the U.S. awaits for the virus' perhaps inevitable arrival, Zhou said she can't help but worry.

"What should we do? Are we going to be treated like a virus?" she said. "Are we going to be discriminated? Our kids are being asked, 'are you from Wuhan, are you from China?' So that's something we worry [about] a lot."

I asked Zhou what she is doing to protect her kids, as an educator. 

"We just tell our kids that this is a virus originating from Wuhan but the virus can be anywhere," she said. "We need to face it and we need to be strong. Everybody needs to stay together and fight it together. Not discriminating any of the minority groups."

Until cases are confirmed in Minnesota, Zhou said she's encouraging everyone to continue life as usual. This is the reason why she said she hasn't shut down her school so far. She is also encouraging people to help in any way they can.

"Don't panic, let's face it," she said. "And we're sure with our help getting together, we're stronger than the virus."

If you would like to participate in the fundraiser by dining at select restaurants, you can find the full list on their Facebook page. Different restaurants participate on different days, so be sure to check the calendar.

If you would like to make a direct monetary contribution, you can do so here. You can also write a check to the Minnesota International Chinese School at: 

MICS, P.O. Box 390423
Edina, MN 55439